Why Failure is a Part of Success

Everyone has experienced setbacks in their life, whether it has been at school, on a sport’s team, or in another setting. Most of us have been conditioned to think of these setbacks or “failures” as the opposite of success. We may feel more could have been accomplished if we had done something differently. However a setback does not define you. Although it may be difficult to acknowledge in the heat of the moment, a setback can help you succeed. It can force you to reflect and put things into perspective. I would like to share how one of my setbacks has enabled me to achieve success.

Graduating from high school and transitioning into the next phase of life can be a stressful and anxious time. Many youth are leaving home for the first time, meeting new people, and experiencing an increased academic and employment-related workload. For myself, the word failure never resonated until I started university. I went from being a big fish in a small pond in high school, to a tiny little fish in, what seemed like, an endless ocean. When I was eighteen, I moved over an hour away from home and lived in residence where I shared an apartment with four other young women. In my first year of university, I felt overwhelmed by reading, assignments, and exams. To make it worse, I also felt like expectations were constantly increasing. In my first semester, I did poorly on a term paper and failed one of my mid-term examinations. These disappointing performances were a difficult blow for me, as I considered myself to be a strong student who always performed her best. I was angry with myself and I was too embarrassed to tell my friends and parents about my performance.

Failure is not a “bad” word. 

Since we have been conditioned to view the word “failure” as the absence of success, “failure” can be a strong word, with negative and harsh connotations. More importantly, if you view failure as a permanent roadblock, it can be difficult to move forward. Instead, try viewing “failure” as a temporary setback. For example, changing the diction can make a significant difference. Instead of referring to a disappointment as failure, think of it as a learning opportunity. This is what I did after experiencing setbacks in my first year of university. After a few weeks of anger, frustration, and embarrassment, I began to reflect on what I could do to improve my performance. I decided that I would buy an agenda to manage the workload from my classes and my part-time job. Then I dedicated a certain amount of time each week for reading and note taking in order to improve my academic performance.  This method helped me see where I could spend more time on my studies. In the end, this opportunity to reflect on my setback allowed me to become a stronger student.

Go ahead, get emotional.

One thing I learned in the past few years (and I wish I had figured out sooner), is that it is okay to get upset. Allowing your emotions to come to the surface in an honest and respectful manner is a healthy way to manage the stress and anxiety of a setback. When I have a temporary setback, in any aspect of my life, I give myself one day to express my emotions. Depending on the situation, this expression can be quite different. For instance, I might cry my eyes out or I might rant to a close friend. Afterwards, I take another day or so to calmly consider how I can learn from the situation and move forward. I find this works well, since I can acknowledge my feelings. Bottling up your emotions will only lead to additional frustration, stress, and anxiety. Find an outlet for your emotions and utilize it.  For example, try taking a yoga class, calling up an old friend, or playing a game.

Nothing is ever perfect, nor is anyone.

One test, one class, or one lost game doesn’t define your worth. Everyone experiences setbacks.  It is easy to dwell on things that go wrong, but try to acknowledge all the things you do well. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do your best, but striving for perfection can lead to measuring yourself against unrealistic standards. Remember, failure is a part of success. Failure can give real meaning to our dreams by allowing us to realize when something isn’t working and can force us to figure out another way to go about things. Failures force us to prioritize what we really want out of life.

Failure is experienced differently by different people and to varying degrees. My examples may in no way relate to your experiences with failure, but if you have any questions or concerns about how to deal with failure, stress, and anxiety, I recommend that you reach out to a mentor, either someone who is already in your life or one of the many passionate mentors here on the National Student Network, and start a conversation.

Above all, remember this:

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

– Winston Churchill


photo credit: Tomasz Stasiuk  via photopin cc

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